Every engineering senior design project must go through three stages:
Perhaps the most crucial part of engineering design is making sure that we understand what the problem is. This stage defines the direction the project will progress. If the problem is poorly defined, the final product may not meet the needs of the children we aim to help. The better we understand what is required of our wheelchair, the more appropriate the final product will be.
No-one on the team has had to live in a wheelchair, so we were unfamiliar with the challenges that wheelchair users face every day. This made understanding the problem an especially high priority for us. We spent our first few weeks conducting interviews and researching wheelchair use in rough terrain. Several team members even spent a full day in a wheelchair, which gave us valuable insight into the problems we needed to address in our new design.
In this stage, we must harness our creativity to solve the problem defined in the previous stage. Many ideas are generated and then analyzed. Good ideas are combined and reevaluated until a final concept is chosen for prototyping.
We first developed a list of requirements for our wheelchair based on our understanding of the problem. From this list we determined which requirements were most important and focused on them.
We used several brainstorming techniques with these requirements in mind. The ideas were combined and altered based on how well they addressed the problem until a final concept was chosen. Engineering calculations were used to determine how the design would react to the rough conditions expected in lower-income settings.
The word "prototype" comes from the Greek "protos" (first) and "typos" (impression). It is the first physical realization of the concept developed in the second stage.
Manufacturing a prototype is valuable because it exposes the design flaws that calculations and assumptions cannot. Running tests on prototypes gives us concrete information about the performance of the wheelchair and helps identify any necessary design changes.
*We are currently building two wheelchair prototypes and hope to have them finished by December 7. Please visit this page again later for more information.*